Janesville Youth Football going strong in its 20th season
“I’ve got it made,” Mike Bernhardt, Janesville Youth Football’s general manager, said. “We’ve got a pretty good checkbook, and if we need stuff, I order it. If we need 75 helmets, I get 75 helmets. I’m blessed.
“I can’t imagine what it was like when the program started,” added Bernhardt, who has served as JYF coach, board member and GM for the last six of his 16-year stint.
Bernhardt and the local football program can reap the rewards because of the grunt work put in when the program started in 1991.
Mel Cushing, Mike Cuyler, Audie Brandenberg and Jerry Davis helped put Janesville Youth Football on its strong foundation.
The four were honored in September for their efforts as part of Janesville Youth Football’s 20th anniversary celebration.
“We went to 10 local businesses and asked for $1,000 to start the league,” said Cushing, who coached the Buckeyes through last season.
Brandenburg, who spent 17 years working in the program, recalled the community was eager to help the fledgling program.
“The businesses and the people of Janesville were really ready for it,” Brandenburg said. “They were more than generous.’’
The group was trying to rescue the local YMCA football program from collapse. There were about 200 players between 9 and 12 years old in peril.
The new program drew an overwhelming response.
“The first year, we had 245 kids,” Cushing said. “It was very difficult to raise the finances to keep it affordable. We did what we could to raise money that first year.’’
The program mushroomed, and the board of directors had to hustle to keep up.
“We had pretty humble beginnings,” Cushing said. “Not everybody envisioned the organization growing like it is.’’
Games started at Traxler Park. The league grew, and game sites were at Monterey Park during the week and Saturdays at Edison Middle School.
“We put in irrigation and lights at Monterey,” Cushing said.
Even with the improvements, the league needed better facilities.
“I was JYF president, and I got a phone call from (former city manager) Steve Sheiffer about a sports complex for soccer and youth football,” Cushing said. “There were six or seven sites.’’
The decision was to use land on the far east side bordered by Wuthering Hills Drive. The land was developed, and lights and a building for concessions and equipment were added.
“We had lots of help from the community,” Cushing said. “We have between 500 and 550 participants and we’ve maintained those numbers and we’re really proud of that.’’